By Joyce Wayne
When I think of men shooting pool, what comes to mind is the great Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason 1961 movie “The Hustler”. Shot in darkly shadowed tones of black and white, and set in a cramped and smoky pool hall, the tense $10,000 battle between small-time pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson, played by Paul Newman, and reigning pool champion Minnesota Fats, played by Jackie Gleason, draws an indelible picture of what this game is all about: raw competitiveness coupled with high-flying gambling. Film critic Roger Ebert described the film as a “one of those films where scenes have such psychic weight that they grow in our memories.” “The Hustler” is credited with sparking a resurgence in the popularity of the game.
Today retired men who were kids when “The Hustler” premiered, are discovering enduring ways to play pool. Last week I visited the snooker room at the John Colborne Recreation Centre for Seniors in the town of Oakville. In the 19th century, billiards was a popular pastime among the British Armed Forces stationed in India. Snooker is played on giant-sized tables and is regarded as much more difficult to master than pool. The Colborne Centre, unlike the dingy pool hall in “The Hustler,” sits on a green expanse of well-tended grass, a block from Lake Ontario. In the airy snooker room encased by picture windows, more than a dozen men are busy aiming their snooker cues at the colourful billiard balls sitting upon the bright green snooker tables on the day I visit to see how things have changed since 1961.
One player, Stan, a former high school principal from east Burlington, has been part of this group for five years. Stan volunteers to care for the room. He’s constructed hand-made wooden lockers so the guys can store their cues in the room and he’s hung a photo of the six players who passed away during the Covid pandemic. He says, “If you come here to only play snooker, you’re in the wrong room. Nobody comes to lose, but no one cares if they do.” According to Stan, the reason the men show up three, four and sometimes five times a week is 80 per cent companionship and 20 per cent for the competition.
Another player, Roger, has been a regular for 14 years, since he retired. He says, “I show up mainly for the snooker. At the same time, I get the benefit of comraderies and male competitiveness.”
Originally from France, Patrick has been attending for four years. Along with snooker, he also plays cards, table tennis and dominoes at the Colborne Centre. “It’s an important part of my life,” he affirms in his Parisienne accent. Patrick shows up three or four days a week. He reminds me that “it only costs $1.00 a day to play.”
Most of the men, including Ned, Henry and Victor have been playing snooker at this centre for at least five years. Victor says, “I pay for the snooker and get the companionship for free.” Roger, who has played here for 12 years, adds that while he’s playing snooker, his wife attends the craft classes down the hall.”
As I observe the men aiming their cues, I can see how seriously they take the game, how intense their concentration levels. At the same time, the room is rife with good humour, jokes galore and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere that brings out the best in everyone.
How men have fun during retirement?
When we read about older men and retirement, we often get an ageist-infused description of loneliness and isolation. The trope is that women mingle, maintain friendships and keep busy with social events. The snooker room at the Colborne Centre shatters the image of the lonely, older male, friendless and bereft with nothing but time on his hands. Although all the men are retired, they are far from friendless or disengaged. Before they retired, their occupations included data management specialist, chemical engineer, television producer, teacher, baker, and various business professionals.
The Colborne Centre is an example of how municipally funded recreation centres can make an enormous difference in the lives of its citizens. As one snooker player told me, “I did very little when the Colborne Centre was closed for Covid. I missed everyone.” Like these men at Colborne Centre, seek your fun and excitement. Find a local community centre near you; perhaps you might find your new passion and life-long friendship.